I’m not sure Zagreb has really appeared on the radar of many Brits travelling to Croatia. There’s few flights from the UK and it doesn’t have the notoriety of Prague or Budapest. However this city, like Bratislava, really should be on your bucket list. Its compact old town is pretty and jam-packed full of colourful Austrian-Hungarian inspired architecture. If you are flying to Zagreb en route to the coast spare at least a day and here’s how to make the most of 24 hours in Zagreb.
Morning – Funicular to the upper town
The Zagreb Funicular links the Lower Town (Donji grad) and Upper Town (Gornji grad). It is the shortest funicular in the world and measures just 66 metres long. As such, the journey takes only a minute but is worth the investment. It departs every 10 minutes from 6:30 AM till 10 PM and costs only 4 HRK.
It dates back to the 1890s and was recently voted as one of the most beautiful in Europe.
You can hop on the funicular at the northwest corner of Jelacica square. You disembark close to a number of delightful buildings and the centre of Croatian power. On St Marks square you can find the parliament, constitutional court and other government buildings. The highlight is the delightful St Marks Church which dates to the 13th century. It’s ornate tiled roof was constructed in 1880 and displays the coats of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia and the emblem of Zagreb.
From the church, it is a short walk to Lotrscak Tower, the only remaining medieval tower in the city. From here, you can take in panoramic views of the city or enjoy a cold beer in one of the bars nestled into the hillside below.
Also nearby is Kamenita Vrata, the only remaining medieval town gate. Take time to explore the interior of this stunning arch. It may not look much from the outside but tiny pews occupy a dark corner in front of a makeshift altar. It’s utterly fascinating.
Descend Radiceva Street to arrive at the cathedral in time for a city tour.
11AM – City sightseeing tours
At the cathedral you will find the bus stop for the city tours. You can take your pick from several bus companies which all start from the same location on the hill above the turning circle. Each tour takes around an hour and charges similar prices, however I recommend the blue bus of Sightseeing Zagreb.
Their bright blue double decker London buses house tables for four on the upper deck, ideal for travelling with friends. In addition, commentary is in English and you can borrow brightly coloured parasols to protect yourself from the baking sun.
Tickets cost 90 Kn per adult, 45 for children and are free for those under 3. Buses depart every two hours between 9 am and 5 pm daily but do not operate on rainy days!
The bus takes you on a tour of the key sights of the city including Park Zrinjevac, St Marks church, the National Theatre and British Square. As you take in the sights of the city, you can highlight any places that you would like to revisit after lunch. I’ve included my top picks below.
Grab lunch from one of the many restaurants on Radiceva or Tkalciceva streets or any of the neighbouring streets and alleys. Food is reasonable and we had a fabulous brunch of Eggs Royale and iced lattes at the Aperitivo Bar on Vlaska street. It cost only 42kn (circa £5).
This park, just south of Jelacica square, is an absolute delight. It hosts a number of events and festivals in summer and when we visit it is an urban nirvana. Giant mushroom-like parasols drape between trees whilst underneath platforms and daybeds house guests enjoying the sunshine. This is the perfect place to relax while your lunch settles.
Little wooden huts make up a perimeter where you can buy drinks. If you prefer to laze, you can take advantage of table service. The rest of the park is a pretty place to wander with fountains, colourful flowerbeds and several statues.
Explore architectural delights
You are not far from the other grand sights of the lower town so head to the area around the Mimara Museum. A cluster of grandiose renaissance style buildings occupy this area and includes the Croatian National Theatre (which resembles the Vienna opera) and the Croatia State Archives.
Amble down Kr. Drzislava towards The Home of Croatian Artists, a circular building in the middle of a large island. It is a very striking building and en route you will pass Park Strossmayera where you can admire the Art Pavilion. Alternatively, take a break from the heat with a drink at one of the many bars by the train station.
Dine at Bistro Nokturno on Skalinska in the heart of the old town. This bistro is exceptional value and has a vast selection on its menu. It’s tucked down a little alley just off Tkalciceva Street and the food is generous and tasty. For drinks, main courses and side salads we paid just over £50 (426kn) for four people!! Unlike other places we dined in Croatia, the service was quick and friendly and the place was packed to the rafters.
Both Radiceva and Tkalciceva Street are throbbing in the evening. We especially enjoyed the Treehouse on Radiceva, but on Tkalciceva Street there is an endless row of pulsing bars so you will be spoiled for choice.
So there you have it. A whirlwind tour of Zagreb in 24 hours, but honestly I recommend that you stay a little longer. That way you can aimlessly wander the old town, stroll through the many parks and admire the gorgeous architecture at leisure. This city combines beautiful historical buildings with modern developments and is a little gem.
Where to stay
We booked our hotels through hotels.com and for every ten nights you stay, you will receive one free night. We stayed at both the Doubletree Hilton Zagreb (amazing pool with a view) and the Canopy by Hilton Zagreb. The latter is a newer Hilton brand, similar to the Marriott Moxy. It is young and funky with a boutique feel, spacious rooms and a free wine and food tasting in the evening. It’s also only a short walk to the train station, botanical gardens and centre of town.
Our highlights of Zagreb
If you would like to follow in our footsteps, head to GPS My City and download the app. It provides everything you need for a self-guided tour with a detailed route map and GPS navigation to guide you between stops. Best of all, the app works offline, so you will not need a data plan.
What do you think?
Perhaps you have visited Zagreb and have your own top picks. If so, feel free to share them. We found restaurants very hit and miss on our trip but did come across a few spectacular gems so if you have had any superb experiences, we would love to know.